Be Strong and Curvaceous
It is not easy to like Be Strong & Curvaceous, especially if you are not a Christian and die-hard fashionista. In this novel, believing in a Christian god is as usual as fancying the latest Chanel dress or a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes. Don’t let the title fool you either. It is some sort of wordplay culled from the Book of Deuteronomy that contains the line “Be strong and courageous.”
It is the story of a bunch of trend-setting young women and their triumphs and travails in an elite boarding school in San Francisco. The girls are quite religious but, hey, they are normal teenagers too. While they are busy with their schooling they go to parties, attend prayer meetings, are well-versed with the latest happenings in the fashion world, and experience boy-troubles.
Okay, okay, if this sounds like a banal storyline, it doesn’t mean that Shelley Adina’s new novel doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. It promotes sisterhood and the attitude of being true to one’s self no matter what. Hence be strong and curvaceous—self-satisfaction. It also discusses the pitfalls of peer pressure and the clique system.
The novel is the third installment of the All About Us YA Series, the tale of four BFFs—the blonde Lissa Mansfield, Asian American Gillian Chang, the Hispanic American Carly Aragon, and the African American Shani Hanna—and their lives in the posh Spencer Academy. If Adina’s first book, It's All About Us, is the story of Lissa and her status as a popular and pretty all-American girl in the middle of the rich and the beautiful, the second book The Fruit of My Lipstick, is Gillian’s tale, who fell for the wrong boy.
This time, it centers on Carly, a young woman who has got into the exclusive academy through scholarship set by the school’s minority quota system, a way to show the diversity of the student population. As she struggles to fit in, her oligarch friends don’t know her bourgeois secrets. They only know that every weekend a limo fetches her on a Sunday night. Truth is, her family used to be rich until her father’s business crashed and her parents got divorced. Carly’s mother realized that she had to find herself, discovered art and left for Mexico, where Carly’s grandparents still live.
Once in Mexico where she spends her spring break, she finally confronts her faith. Excitedly coming back to the academy, she discovers that she has a new roommate, a snooty Scottish noble lady, Lady Lindsay MacPhail, aka Mac. The queen bee-like red-haired daughter of the Earl of Strathcain has everything Carly wants—designer clothes, the guts to face the mean-spirited Heathers in the school headed by Vanessa Talbot, and most of all, the attention of Carly’s crush, the handsome Brett Loyola, Vanessa’s ex-boyfriend.
Apart from dealing with her newly found Christian-ness, she longs to be a part of the “in” crowd ready to conquer with her sewing and designing abilities, her charm and wit. The moment comes in as the nasty Heathers use her as a bridge to commit Mac to the Charity Ball. The twist begins when Mac receives odd threatening email messages coming from a stalker. Determined not to forsake her desperate roommate, she and her friends ask God to help them. Soon enough, everything is resolved with a series of divine intervention.
Sure, Adina wants to send the message: It is okay to be a Christian and have fun. I am afraid it might not sit well with the hardliner Christians, who heavily suspect the use of popular form to spread the word of God. On the other hand, the secular readers might overlook her aim and instead, point out the excess materialism and vanity sending a wrong signal to the young audience that would rather watch MTV.
Perhaps, Adina’s works would entice them into the “cumbersome chore” that is reading. But, then again, the question is: are her novels the right ones to lead the way?